Abusing James

Posted: April 28, 2019 in Mormon Studies, Susan Grape
Why the Book of James Doesn’t Support Mormon
“Faith without Works is Dead” Arguments

“Saint James of Jerusalem, Brother of Our Lord Jesus Christ and Martyr” (Greek Icon Painting, artist unknown)

by Susan Grape
INTRODUCTION
Mormons believe that “Faith without works is dead”; therefore, salvation/eternal life is not by grace alone (James 2:14, 17, 20, 24). Christians almost always use Ephesians 2:8-9 to refute this. Instead of refuting this with Ephesians 2:8-9, use the unpredictable—James’ epistle. Several specifics affirm that James was admonishing weakened believers to justify their faith, and not instructing them about keeping or receiving eternal life.

HISTORICAL SETTING
James wrote to Jews who had “scattered abroad” due to persecution which arose under King Agrippa I. They were beaten, imprisoned, and some were martyred (Acts 7-8:1). Thus, they stopped doing the works they did when they lived in Jerusalem. There, they established a ministry for widows (Acts 6:1-7) and sold everything they had for the common good. The Church grew quickly because of their love (Acts 4-5). At some point, the outward proof of their faith was replaced with living for personal gain (James 1:9-11, 27, 2:8-9, 4:13-5:1-5), and they became double-minded (1:9-10; 4:3-4; 8-11; 5:4-6).

EPISTLE’S THEME
Not once did James ever explain how to receive eternal life, or that these believers lost their eternal life. On the contrary, he called them brothers (1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1; 4:11; 5:7, 10, 12, 19) throughout his “wake up call” rebuke (1:26-2:1-26), which exposed their deadened faith and impelled them to live like they once did.

CONTEXT
The meaning of the “faith without works” phrases is based in this background, and also the examples they are embedded in. Each phrase is explained with an example of a person being “justified” (Gk. dikaioo) as in to verify or vindicate. “dikaioo” means:

dikaioo (1344) primarily “to deem to be right,” signifies, in the NT, (a) “to show to be right or righteous”; in the passive voice, to be justified, Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:35; Rom. 3:4; 1 Tim. 3:16; (b) “to declare to be righteous, to pronounce righteous,” (1) by man, concerning God, Luke 7:29 (see Rom. 3:4, above); concerning himself, Luke 10:29; 16:15; (2) by God concerning men, who are declared to be righteous before Him on certain conditions laid down by Him.
(W.E. Vine, “Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words: With Topical Index (Word Study)”, Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition, position 32421; also see Strong’s #1344

Abraham’s “work” was justified as in verification, not salvation (2:21-23) and Rahab was vindicated, not made righteous (2:25-26). Why verify and vindicate, and not salvation? Because human sacrifice, lying, and betrayal are not “good” works, and therefore could never EARN eternal life! (They do, however, prove where one stands.)

James’ exhortation of proving ones’ faith does not contradict the Biblical essential that salvation is through grace/faith alone. Rather, it reiterates that works are a product of faith, and not what obtains or secures eternal life (Eph. 2:10).

Just prior to the “faith without works” phrases, James writes, “If someone breaks Law, the whole Law is broke” which clearly tells us that obeying the Law will not appease or atone for the commandments we have broken; therefore good works will not cover our sins thus earning eternal life.

James 2:14, 17, 20, 24 affirms that James was admonishing weakened believers to justify their faith; and not instructing them about keeping or earning eternal life.

Here, for easy reference (and for your copy and paste use in dialoguing with Mormons online) is the entire second chapter of the Book of James from the King James Version of the Bible.

James 2 (King James Version)
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.
For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;
And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:
Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?
Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?
But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?
Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?
If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:
But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.
10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
11 For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.
12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.
13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.
14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

About the Author
Susan Grape grew up in a non-church going family. When she became engaged, her fiancé (now husband) and she joined a Christian church. As she was learning about the Bible and Jesus, several friends, and relatives who were either Mormon, Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christian Scientist shared their beliefs with her and challenged her to the point that she knew that their doctrine was different enough to question that someone (perhaps herself) had to be wrong. When Mormon missionaries and Jehovah’s Witnesses came to her home, it forced her to study the scriptures to see what the Bible actually taught. That very intense time of studying gave her the evidence for what Biblical truth is. It sparked the desire to reach out to these groups with the Biblical gospel and the Biblical Christ.

Mrs. Grape served as a board member for ten years with Berean Christian Ministries and she currently is in her eleventh year of serving on the board of Christian Research & Counsel. Her husband Brad also is on the board. The Grape’s adult children are professing Christians, and their grandchildren are also being raised in the faith.

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